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From the Sochi Olympics to the Oshie Olympics

What's Going Downey

By Tom Downey
On February 18, 2014

Before Saturday, only true hockey fans knew who T.J. Oshie was. Before Saturday, he was just a fourth-line forward for Team USA. Before Saturday, Oshie was a cog on the Olympic hockey team chosen for his shootout prowess.

Saturday, Oshie turned himself into a household name. In a shootout against Russia, Oshie scored four times on six shots to lead America past Russia. He was the only American to score in the shootout and became a star in a matter of minutes.

Unlike in the NHL, teams can choose any shooter after the first three rounds, and can use him as much as they want. USA head coach Dan Bylsma chose Oshie, while Russian head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov choose to rotate Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk.

He's likely public enemy No. 2 in Russia, behind only the referee who overturned a go-ahead Russian goal with less than five minutes to go in the game. Russians are so upset by the ruling, that they are actually protesting the disallowed goal at the U.S. embassy.

Oshie's game-winner, a five-hole shot past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, may have enraged Russian president Vladimir Putin more than Johnny Weir's outfits.

The publicity has to be a strange feeling for Oshie, who hasn't been the center of attention like he is now for many years. At the University of North Dakota, he was overshadowed by teammate Jonathan Toews, who is now a star for the Chicago Blackhawks. He isn't even the best player on the St. Louis Blues, as that title belongs to fellow USA teammate David Backes.

Even after he scored, he pointed to goalie Jonathan Quick, a gesture that speaks to Oshie's ability to share credit and glory with others.

Now, he's being called a hero, a title he rejects.

"The real American heroes are wearing camo. That's not me." Oshie told the Pittsburgh-Tribune-Review after the USA win.

Americans have proven they tend to unify around two things; sports and patriotism. The perfect example of those two events coming together was on display at Brick Street Bar Saturday morning. Before the game, a gentleman stood up on stage and recited the speech from "Miracle." No hockey game against Russia is complete without a comparison to that game, even if no one on the current American team was alive for it.

When Oshie buried the game winner, Brick Street erupted in a classic display from American sports fans: screaming, celebrating, throwing drinks and chanting.

All this excitement and publicity is over a preliminary game, meaning it has little impact on the medal race. USA has a bye until the quarterfinals, where it will face the winner of Slovakia and the Czech Republic. While the rivalry between the Czechs and Slovaks will likely be lost on an American audience, the potential (and likely) semi-final matchup between USA and Canada will not. If the matchup happens, it will be a rematch of the gold medal game in 2010 that Canada won. And if America makes it to the gold medal game, it may very well face Russia.

Hockey still lags behind basketball, baseball and football as far as American TV viewers are concerned, but the USA-Russia game was the most-viewed event ever for the NBC Sports Channel. Americans are starting to fall in love with hockey, and the blossoming love affair will only grow if we get a USA-Russia gold medal match. And America's love of Oshie will reach absurd proportions if he plays the role of hockey hero again.

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